The plan seemed wholesome enough. The local high school football team wins a game, the players eat for free at a local restaurant. Not so fast with that breakfast, says the Michigan High School Athletic Association.
As reported by the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus in Howell, Howell High School was found in violation of two MHSAA rules after players received free breakfast from All Star Coney Island after two wins.
News of the violation came just after the paper published a story on the offer, which the restaurant made after HHS head coach Brian Lewis spent the summer searching for local businesses that wanted to support the team. In the past, restaurants have offered a one-time dinner or breakfast, not tied to a win or loss.
But according to All Star co-owner Cindy Fillmore, the eatery wanted to go one step further — offering a free breakfast the morning after every Friday win, according to reporter Patricia Alvord.
According to MHSAA director of communications Geoff Kimmerly, while the team didn't know it, they violated two rules from the 2023-24 Coaches Guidebook: amateaur athletes are prohibited from receiving special treatment, and from receiving performance-based incentives.
"We are an association of athletics built for amateur athletes and the nature of amateur status does not allow us to be favored one way or another. That is one of our core beliefs," Kimmerly said. "This is a long-standing rule and it's something that our teams all over the state have followed for decades."
Kimmerly added that as long as the team retroactively pays for the meals they received over the last two weeks, the MHSAA won't impose any penalties.
"They can go ahead and retroactively pay for those meals and there won't be penalties. They won't have to forfeit any of those games or anything like that," Kimmerly said.
In an email to the Livingston County Daily, Fillmore suggested the restaurant could offer breakfast, win or lose. "Apparently it’s against the rules to say free after a win," she wrote. "So the boys are welcome after any game."
The following is a statement from Howell Public Schools:
"Following news coverage regarding a small business in our community offering free breakfast to our football team after each victory, the district was contacted by an official with the Michigan High School Athletics Association (MHSAA), alerting us to a rules violation for this action. Specificity, Interpretation 149B, which states, 'Prizes or awards to team members or contributions or donations to individuals, organizations, schools or causes which are based upon the athletic performance of individual athletes or school teams in interscholastic athletic events are not permitted under amateur status regulations. This prohibition includes but is not limited to non-symbolic awards or valuable consideration given for victories, championships, scoring (offense), or preventing scoring (defense), margins of victory or margins of defeat, and similar incentives based upon team or individual athletic performance.'
"Upon learning of this violation, the Athletic Department immediately took action to resolve the situation. In communications with the MHSAA, the department was informed that it must reimburse the business for the costs of the breakfasts, in accordance with MHSAA Interpretation 154: 'A student or school may remedy a violation of this Section (except Interpretation 129) by promptly reimbursing or returning to the originating party the payment, merchandise, gift certificates, valuable consideration and awards in excess of the stated limitations. In such instances, written documentation of return must be submitted to the MHSAA for final determination of eligibility and forfeitures.' The reimbursement to the business has already occurred, and proof of the reimbursement will be provided to the MHSAA.
"Howell Public Schools and its Athletic Department take compliance with all rules and regulations very seriously, and this incident was the result of an unintentional error. Our commitment to fair play and sportsmanship remains unwavering, and we are committed to rectifying any potential violations promptly.
"As of this afternoon, we have received correspondence from the MHSAA that they have closed and finalized the matter. The correspondence also thanked the Athletic Department for its professionalism and adherence to MHSAA regulations and policy."